Tunisia Ennahda leader raises referendum prospect: report

BRUSSELS, Brussels Capital Region, Aug 05, 2013 (AFP)

Tunisia’s ruling Ennahda party leader Rashid Ghannouchi raised the prospect of a referendum as a way out of the country’s political crisis, in an interview published Monday by Belgian daily Le Soir.

“It’s a fact that in Tunisia there are two ‘streets’,” Ghannouchi said, referring to demonstrations for and against the ruling cabinet following Ennahda claims that 200,000 people rallied Saturday in support of the embattled Islamist-led government.

That march followed regular protests repeated on Monday that have been staged since the assassination in February of opposition politician Chokri Belaid in a crisis further stoked by the killing of MP Mohamed Brahmi, shot dead outside his home on July 25.

A coalition of opposition parties has called for a rally on Tuesday — the six-month anniversary of Belaid’s assassination — to demand the departure of the government and the dissolution of the National Constituent Assembly.

Government detractors say the Ennahda-led cabinet has failed to rein in radical Islamists who have grown in influence and stand accused of a wave of attacks since the 2011 uprising that toppled strongman Zine el Abidine Ben Ali.

“We are in the final 100 metres of the transitional process and we refuse to start all over from scratch,” Ghannouchi told the newspaper in an interview conducted Sunday evening.

“We are looking into the idea of a referendum as an alternative solution to the crisis,” he said.

Prime Minister Ali Larayedh had already raised this possibility on July 29. Opposition forces again demonstrated on Monday, but no negotiations ensued.

Ghannouchi told Le Soir that those calling for the dissolution of parliament had exposed themselves, with “public opinion refusing to allow the country to slide into a void.”

He said that Ennahda was open to bringing opposition forces into coalition government. “All options are on the table. Anything is possible,” he said.

The most likely outcome, he said, was that Ennahda would not back any one candidate in presidential polls, “to keep equal distance from all runners”.

Larayedh, who has already proposed a broader coalition and general elections for December, on Saturday reiterated that his government would not step down, and told a news conference that Tunisia needs “national unity”.

But dozens of deputies have boycotted the assembly since Brahmi’s murder, further delaying the drawing up of a new post-revolution constitution.

The assembly is due to meet on Tuesday to discuss the threat facing the country after security forces killed a “terror” suspect in a dawn raid on Sunday.

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